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Jenny Agutter

Review: Logan’s Run

[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]

Several people have assured me that Logan’s Run is a well-above-average science fiction novel; not having read it, I’m hardly about to contradict them, or attempt to blame the failure of the film version on the novelists. But as Logan’s Run dribbled out via a hasty, convenient, and not very convincing conclusion, I found myself reflecting that sf writers can get away with a lot on the printed page that moviemakers just can’t. At least until its current wave of respectability, sf put its practitioners in an economic/aesthetic bind: even a talented sf writer was faced with a shortage of time to work through his ideas and polish his narrative—gotta make a sale, buy bread and typewriter ribbon, and get on with the next one. And so you may be reading along in a sci-fi novel, find yourself turned on by the visionary or dramatic possibilities of a situation—say, 20 pages’ worth of prose—and then find yourself back in flat, uninvolving, strictly functional 10-cents-a-word narrative territory until the next intriguing passage heaves into view. A writer who has to get his character out of a tight spot can reach for his dot-dot-dot and announce a new chapter, cutting away in time and space, coming back to his character when it’s handy to do so, and trusting the casually surreal nature of the genre to soothe the savage beast of linear narrative curiosity. In a film, no way.

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Review: Equus

[Originally published in Movietone News 56, November 1977]

Sidney Lumet was just the right director for Equus, and just the wrong one. His certified ability to entice performances of considerable force — if not always precision and coherence — is invaluable to the film version of a play that, however much “opened up” for the screen, still depends to an extraordinary degree on the impact of actor on audience, and on his fellow players, for that matter. Equus is reasonably satisfying to watch as a collection of actor’s-moments, but only in a negative sense can it be discussed as a movie, and this is where Lumet’s essential wrongness for the project comes in. Peter Shaffer’s Equus, like brother Anthony’s Sleuth, is a highly stylized construct whose primary raison-d’etre is to provide a theatrical battle zone for a couple of skilled actors. A honey of a conceit lies at the heart of the piece, a point of convergence where sexual urgency and Christian iconography and primitive, almost primeval mystic rite overlap, intertwine, crossrefer, and get mixed up and mutated every which way, with man-on-horseback-as-godhead and man-and-woman-as-one-flesh setting up irresistibly resonant imagistic and conceptual rhymes. Pretty heavy, yes/no? Mm, could be, sure: sex and God and identity-crisis — that’s heavy-artillery stuff in anyone’s canon. But the fact is that Shaffer’s points and paradoxes are readily perceptible and paraphrasable about ten minutes into the picture, and prove to be several degrees less-sophisticated than “Rosebud” in Citizen Kane. But whereas Welles needed Rosebud only as a pretext, and could dispose of it with an ironic fillip about thirty seconds before the end of his movie, Shaffer/Lumet must keep the same not-so-multifaceted sparkler twirling for the duration of their show. And that they have chosen to let psychiatrist Richard Burton periodically pour out his anguish — and suggest a few interpretive glosses — direct to the audience only exacerbates the sense of desperately limited ideational resources being wrung drier than dry.

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